We all know that Sony has broken the mold for entry-level full-frame cameras with the release of the new A7III. But even at a great price (just two dollars short of $2,000), it still might be out of reach for the savvy photography business owner on a tight budget. Fortunately, there are several other options on the market that can get you up into full-frame territory for much less than the cost of a brand new Sony A7III.
I’ve compiled a list of several entry-level full-frame cameras available. My criteria are simple; 35mm sensor and a ‘body-only’ list price below $1,500 USD. I didn’t include lenses in the price, because my thought is if you’re considering spending your hard-earned money on a full-frame camera, you already have great glass to use with it. If you don’t, I suggest your limited funds would be better spent on better lenses for your current body.
There are several models currently listed on the B&H website that meet this criterion. I picked five and ordered them by price from lowest to highest. All pricing is in USD and pulled directly from the B&H website. Prices will vary, so shop around for the best deals.
Sony Alpha A7
The Sony Alpha A7 was a game changer when it first came to market. As the first full-frame mirrorless camera, it foreshadowed interesting things to come with it’s compact, lightweight design. Today, it’s an absolute steal at only $798 and the cheapest way to enter the world of full-frame photography.
Equipped with a 24.3-megapixel sensor, the A7 still produces excellent images. It lacks a touchscreen and there’s no 4k video, but 1080p60 is available. Battery life is the biggest knock against the A7, but given its low price, you can pick up a couple of spares for all-day shoots. It’s the smallest, lightest, cheapest path to full-frame photography…at least until you start adding lenses.
Canon’s 6D is the cheapest DSLR on our list at just $999. This camera might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but it’s a lightweight option with a 20.3-megapixel sensor that produces great images. It lags behind other option for resolution and autofocus (11-point with one cross-type). Video capabilities are also weak on the Canon 6D, but it will do 1080p at 30fps, which should be fine for those of us who are primarily still photographers. Besides, if you’re shooting a lot of videos, you’re not going to buy a full-frame DSLR anyway.
I had hoped to include the upgraded Canon 6D Mark II on this list, but the body-only price came in just over my $1,500 price target by $99. It’s an option worth considering if you don’t need the rock-bottom price of the 6D. It’s video capabilities are upgraded and the auto-focus system is much better. The 6D Mark II includes Canon’s Dual-Pixel AF system. Combined with the fully-articulating touchscreen delay, the 6D Mark II is a capable video shooter, but it’s doubtful if these features make the 6D Mark II a better entry-level option than the older 6D.
The mirrorless Sony A7II is perhaps the most intriguing model on this short list of entry-level full-frame cameras at $1098. The internal components and specs are similar to the original A7, but the Mark II versions come with some compelling upgrades that are worth the extra $300.
The handling characteristics are much improved, with a deeper grip and tweaked control layout. The A7II also sports 5-axis in-body image stabilization, meaning you no longer have to rely on image-stabilized lenses for steady handheld shooting. It’s got solid FullHD video capability with 1080p60 at 50Mb/s. No 4K, but it is still the most capable video shooter on this list.
At only a few hundred more than an A7 and half the price of a new A7III, the Sony A7II might be the best choice for an entry-level full-frame camera.
Stepping up in price brings us to the entry-level offering in the Nikon catalog, the D610 at $1,496. It offers a 24.3-megapixel sensor and a respectable autofocus system with 39 focus points, 9 of which are cross-type. All the internal are wrapped in a weather-sealed housing making the D610 ideal for outdoor work.
The D610 is also outfitted with dual card slots, an important feature for professional photographers who benefit from the redundancy of recording to both cards simultaneously. It’s capable of basic video recording at 1080p/30fps. This would be a solid buy for an entry-level full-frame camera, but check out the next camera on the list first.
I was surprised to see the Nikon D750 come up in my B&H search at exactly the same price ($1,496) as the D610. Perhaps it’s in the midst of a price adjustment (I have seen the D750 on sale recently), but a D750 for the same price as a D610 (or even a couple hundred dollars higher), is a no-brainer.
The D750 gives you an upgraded autofocus system right out of its D810 big brother. It also features a tilting rear LCD screen, built-in WiFi, and full 1080p60 video capability. It also promises a faster burst rate (6.5fps) and better battery life (1230 shots) than the D610 or the D810 for that matter. If you intend to shoot Nikon and can manage the higher price, the D750 is a superb entry-level full-frame camera.
What About a Used Camera?
I don’t want to rule out used equipment. I buy most of my gear previously-enjoyed from a local brick-and-mortar. If you don’t mind a camera with a few miles on it, there are some great deals to be had on most of the entry-level full-frame cameras on this list, which will save your business even more money.
You may also be able to find a higher-end body that falls within your budget on the used market.
For example, I recently picked up a mint Nikon D5100 with an 18-55mm kit lens for $300CDN from a local wedding photographer who moved to full-frame and was cashing in her unneeded gear. It’s not full frame, but it was a heck of a deal.
Which of These Entry-Level Full-Frame Cameras is Right for You?
Any of these models would make an ideal point to step up to full-frame for a professional photographer on a budget, assuming that’s the right move for your business.
I mentioned the lenses above, but it bears repeating, you should only be considering a full-frame body if you’ve already got the glass you need for your projects.
As an example, if you’re an event photographer and you’re using a crop-sensor body and you don’t own a 24-70mm F2.8 and/or 70-200mm F2.8, your photography business may benefit more from an investment in better glass than a larger body.